Severin Fayerman did what he could to survive in German concentration camps during World War II, relying on his skill as a toolmaker to stay alive, while fighting off the effects of his deteriorating health.
Fayerman, 89, of Reading, Pa., said he and his family were living in Poland when he was rousted from his home and forced into a tightly-packed train car that only had two barred windows near the roof.
Fayerman talked to members of the Potomac Highlands World War II Roundtable Wednesday night about his experiences. The group, which meets once a month and features speakers, met at the Morris Frock Post 42 of the American Legion on Northern Avenue.
Fayerman said he ended up in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was assigned a job digging trenches.
He told the audience about how he was forced to strip naked, nearly all the hair was shaved off his body and being given nothing but prison garb, a cup, a bowl and a spoon.
Fayerman rolled clothes in ball for a pillow at night, and he and other prisoners slept together to keep warm on “shelves.”
Fayerman said the food in the prison camp gave him diarrhea, and a friend in the camp with medical expertise suggested he burn some wood and use the charcoal in a drink to control the condition.
Relying on his background as a toolmaker, Fayerman was able to get a better job outside the camp.
He also met older prisoners in the camps who were able to get him better food, and he learned tricks like not getting in food lines first because that often meant getting only watery portions of the soup prisoners ate.
He learned that if he got back further in line, he was more likely to get something like a piece of potato in his soup.
Fayerman ended up in Buchenwald and other concentration camps, but he was finally able to break free, and his whole family survived.
Fayerman later emigrated to the United States. In 1946, the Fayerman family purchased the Baldwin Tool and Die Co. in Newark, N.J.
It became a multimillion-dollar company, and some of its hardware ended up in the White House.
“This is the most wonderful country in the world,” said Fayerman, whose comment was followed by a round of applause.
Fayerman said before his talk that he has spoken hundreds of times about his World War II experiences.
He was often asked by friends and family members to write about his experiences, but rejected the idea because he didn’t want to relive the horrible events.
Fayerman said he came to the conclusion he had an obligation to write the book, titled “A Survivor’s Story: The Personal Memoirs of Severin Fayerman.”